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Powered by the light: Loudoun vineyard turning sunshine into wine

photoThe Sunset Hills Vineyard, located in Purcellville, now boasts 154 solar panels that are capable of churning out 35 kilowatts of power. Video Still/Matt Vecchio

Sunset Hills Vineyard emphasizes two of Purcellville’s unique traditional traits — rolling hills and grape vines. But now, 154 solar panels later, Sunset Hills is also the site of the largest solar installation on record in Loudoun County.

“Sunset Hills is a 5,000 case vineyard on a 50-acre property, and we’ve always been interested in being as gentle to the land as possible,” Nate Walsh, the winemaker and vineyard manager, told the Times-Mirror. “Not because it necessarily produces better wine, but because it’s a better way to approach life.”

Sunset Hills’ two barn roofs allowed a perfect location to mount the panels.

“Noticing how ideal the building was for solar panels, we started talking to some companies,” Walsh said. “It seemed like a great fit with what we were trying to do with the vineyard — to move all of our production, tasting room and heating and cooling [to solar] and knock all those costs down.”

Herndon-based Green Brilliance was the winning bidder, and put in the 35-kilowatt rating system — which produces 50,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year.

The block of panels is split up between the two roofs—84 on the larger building and 70 on the smaller building—used for storing barrels of wine.

Sumit Bhatnagar, a managing partner at Green Brilliance, said the easy way to decide how many panels needed to be installed was to determine how much space they had. While trying to maximize space, they also had to factor in how big a system was necessary and what the budget limitations were.

And while the system is currently producing more power than the vineyard can use, none of the energy is wasted.

“The excess power produced by the solar panels here is pushed back to the grid,” Bhatnagar said. This means that the power is spread out throughout the area.

“That power goes to the neighbors,” Senior Technical Engineer at Green Brilliance Sam Syed said.

Additionally, Sunset Hills gets a credit for this extra power being pushed to the grid. The vineyard has been able to eliminate its electrical bill after the approximate $200,000 investment for the switch to solar. It should take six or seven years to break even.

“Turning sunshine into wine is something we’ve been doing for a while here at Sunset Hills,” vineyard owner Mike Canney said in a released statement. “Converting the winery over to solar power is the next step in continuing to utilize the natural resources we all have available to us. We are proud to make great wine and protect the environment at the same time.”

Sunset Hills is located at 38295 Fremont Overlook Lane in Purcellville.

“The staff at Sunset Hills has spent a lot of time and energy making this a green, sustainable, environmentally friendly vineyard,” Bhatnagar said.

Follow Matt Vecchio on Twitter

Comments


This winery, like some others, has really gotten into the “green” thing. From low-e windows to low wattage lighting. They are adamant about recycling as well. Kudos for ponying up the dough to install a solar array that is not only eco-friendly, but will also make Sunset even more profitable 5 or 6 years from now. That’s good business, and that’s what will help maintain them in business for the long haul.

Alby, do what Uh says and re-read the article. Anybody who knows anything about solar knows that those credits are also credited back to Sunset for those days/nights where they actually need juice from the grid.

And GCG? Wow, complaining about having to pay for a tasting. Hmmmm. If you can’t afford to help pay for the overhead these wineries incur to give you a pleasant experience (staff, utilities, property taxes, insurance, machinery, etc.), then don’t bother going. I’m sure your tasting fee could get you a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 or Boone’s at your local dive.
BTW - I’m pretty sure Sunset’s tasting fee is $7. You can use the $3 you’re saving for a piece of cheese ;-)


It’s about time!! Yea for solar and wind power.  How can you possibly go wrong there!!


Alby,

Take a second to actually read the article or do your own checking before making a comment.  The vineyard gets credits for their excess power called RECs.  These credits are purchased by the energy suppliers.

Good article, and great work GB.


“154 solar panels” ... “$200,000 investment”

Must be nice to have enough money to buy yourself off the grid so you never have to pay an electric bill again. But wait, it gets better:


Very Very Nice. Congratulation to all GB team.

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